Friday, December 5, 2014


By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
For those who are attending the How Kids Learn IV conference next week, you are invited to participate in real time through social media using the hashtag, #HKL4. Use this hashtag when posting your comments and photos. For those not attending, you can still register or peak in by clicking the hashtag on any of your social media accounts. 

Follow us on: 
Instagram: @LIASproject
- Twitter: @LearninginAS
- Facebook:

We interviewed our social media expert, Max Piha, and you can find his answers to a couple of our questions below. 

Q: What does the hashtag do? 
Max Piha
A: Hashtags are used to group content regarding a common topic. When clicked on, you will be taken to a feed of all other posts that include the given hashtag. For example, see the posts that included hashtag #HKL3 from last year's conference: - This year we want to have as many posts with #HKL4 as possible so that during and after the conference, people can go back and see who was at HKL4, who was speaking, what the workshops looked like, etc.

Q: To follow #HKL4 on Twitter, do I need a Twitter account? If so, how do I get that?  
A: You do not need a Twitter account to view the feed of all posts under the hashtag. You can just click on to follow the feed. But in order to add to the feed, you will need to set up an account.

Q: If I want to view photos from the HKL conference on Instagram, do I need an account or only a link? 
A: Public Instagram accounts can be seen by anyone. Take for example. Anyone can see my profile, but in order to follow me, anyone else, leave comments, like photos, post photos etc., they will need an account.

Q: There is growing interest in using social media for non-profit work. What do you think is the most effective use?
A: I think there are a variety of uses, but most importantly, giving your organization an outward facing, fun, social appearance, plus getting in touch with partners and like-minded people and organizations/brands.

Q: If I want to use social media for my non-profit work, what questions should I consider first? 
A: Determine how much time a week are you willing to dedicate towards social media. Also, how much money, if any, are you willing to spend on advertisements or agency/consultant level help to get you started or to run completely.

Max Piha graduated from the University of Washington with a major in communications and a minor in Spanish. He serves as a Temescal Associate responsible for the design of our digital badges and the use of social media. Max is also a very successful club DJ, using the name DJ Mackswell, and you can view his work and hear unique mixes by going to this link:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Worth Checking Out: Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on the Affects of Childhood Stress

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
As we learn more about how children learn and what kinds of learning is needed, there is a growing number of radio, television, and film specials that address these issues. We will periodically pass these on to our readers to support their growing knowledge. 

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is a pediatrician who serves families in the Bayview district of San Francisco. She is also founder and CEO of Center for Youth Wellness (CYW). She has earned international attention for her innovative approach to addressing adverse childhood experiences as a risk factor for adult disease such as heart disease and cancer. Her work has demonstrated that it’s time to reassess the relationship between poverty, child development and health. More recently, she has spoken about "Toxic Stress" and its affect on child development. 

 Dr. Nadine Burke Harris
Photo courtesy of
Dr. Burke Harris has given fascinating interviews on this topic to KQED. Below are audio and video links to hear and view her interviews. 

Study Links Childhood Trauma to Adult Depression, Physical Ailments (November 2014) 

S.F. Pediatrician on How ‘Toxic Stress’ Affects Children’s Health, Education (February 2014)

First Person: Dr. Nadine Burke (February 2011) 

* * *
Join us at How Kids Learn IV

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Kids Learn IV: Character Building, Social Emotional Learning, and Educational Equity

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We are excited to see our many afterschool and summer program colleagues at the upcoming How Kids Learn IV conference. We are also excited about our many presenters and workshop leaders who will focus on character building, social emotional learning, and educational equity. 

We are pleased to announce two new speaker sessions: 
  • Kwame Jerry Williams is a group facilitator, drummer, and storyteller at Alchemy, Inc. in Ohio. Jerry and Alchemy, Inc. are featured in a new documentary, Finding the Gold Within, which had its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Kwame Jerry Williams in Finding the Gold Within
Photo courtesy of Karina Films

  • Blanca Burciaga and Benjamin Gonzalez, Jr., youth from Oakland Leaf Foundation, will offer their perspective on our topics. They will be supported by Alex Vila. 

Left: Benjamin Gonzalez, Jr. | Right: Blanca Burciaga

This conference will be attended by youth program leaders, afterschool funders, 10 of California's 11 Regional Leads, 18 staff members from the After School Division at the California Department of Education, and many more. A few tickets are still available. Visit to see a full list of speakers and to register for the conference. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Long History of Afterschool in America: Who Knew?

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Last month, many participated in a national campaign to raise awareness among outsiders of the valuable contribution of afterschool programs in the Lights On celebration. However, it is important that insiders - aftereschool leaders and workers -  know that afterschool has deep and colorful roots in American history. It is a unique institution and every afterschool leader and worker should be literate on its history. 

Robert Halpern
For more than two decades, I have been creating and delivering PowerPoint presentations to afterschool stakeholders across the country. The most popular presentation, regardless of attendees, was a history of afterschool inspired by a book, Making Play Work by Robert Halpern. 

After every presentation, youth workers and program leaders came up to me to say things like, "That was great! It's good to know that I belong to something larger than just an afterschool program - I am participating in continuing the long history that we learned about. Who knew?". The people who were most energized were young afterschool workers!  

I recently placed these History of Afterschool slides on the web-based Slideshare, which have attracted over 500 views (see 3 of the slides above). You can also access the narrative here

I urge you all to read Robert Halpern's book and to share these slides and narrative with program staff and other afterschool stakeholders. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Making a Commitment to Character

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
We all know that preparing young people with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed as adults is a primary function of a society. But who is really responsible and what skills and knowledge are needed? 

To begin, we believe that adults and institutions where children spend their time need to think about their role. Naturally, the family, media, and broader culture comes into play but it is time that schools and youth programs step up to the plate by promoting social and emotional skills and opportunities to practice them. 
Photo credit:

In the recent past, school leaders claimed that their only responsibility was promoting academic skills as measured by test scores. We would argue that the responsibility for developing a positive school climate and developing social emotional skills is vital to academic learning and healthy development. In a new study released today by the Brookings Institution, "Non-cognitive skills and character competencies have as much of an effect on success as academic skill". This joins a growing body of research on non-cognitive skills, social emotional learning, school climate, growth mindsets, and the brain that points to the importance of these skills to academic learning in promoting healthy development - something that youth development researchers have been saying for a long time. 

Photo credit:

Expanded learning youth programs, whether they are school-based or after school, also have an important role and there is room for much improvement in this area. According to research, afterschool programs that include social emotional learning are the most successful in positively impacting young people in every domain including academic success. And let's not leave off the role of parents and guardians.  

People ask, "What exactly are these skills? What can we do?". Because children are increasingly growing up in a "mean culture", now is the time for everyone to come together and promote these skills and opportunities to practice them. We will expand on these issues in future blog posts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lights On Afterschool

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Every year there is one day dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the contributions of afterschool programs. As everyone knows, this national day is called Lights On Afterschool and it will be celebrated on October 23, 2014. 

You can participate in this celebration at the California State Capitol. You can find more information by clicking here. You can also join others in showcasing afterschool programs. Plan your event by using the planning guide, found here.
Register your event here.

Hats off to afterschool programs!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Celebrating 20 Years: Honoring Beacon Pioneers

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
This year, the San Francisco Beacon Initiative is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I had the privilege of serving as Managing Director for the initiative for six years. During that time, I had the opportunity to learn alongside Milbrey McLaughlin, Jim Connell, Michelle Gambone, Connie Dubin, Sue Eldredge, and many others.

It was Sylvia Yee, Vice President at the Haas, Jr. Fund, who had the vision of bringing together city leaders, the school district, community leaders, and representatives from multiple foundations to build the initiative. This was an initiative where commonly held rules and conventions were changed if they interfered with the mission of the Beacon Centers. This was an initiative where leaders from philanthropy, the school district, and city government held each other accountable for the early promises of support. This was an initiative where foundations checked their egos at the door by agreeing to pool their funds and accept a common proposal and common report to minimize the administrative burden on the Beacon's Directors. 

Sue Eldredge
Lastly, we can thank the Beacons for helping to school Michael Funk, long-time Director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center, who is now the After School Division Director at the California Department of Education. It is important that we note that the Beacons are rooted in youth development. They came before 21st Century Learning Centers, ASES, and the academic agenda to raise test scores. Even though they embraced the academic agenda with grace, the Beacon Centers were, first and foremost, always youth development centers.

To learn more, view  these two brief videos:

Photo Credit:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

School Climate and LGBT Youth

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We know through research that school climate has a large impact on how kids view their education, their mental health, sense of well being, and school attendance. It is not clear what impact an afterschool program can have on an entire school climate, but we do know that a sense of emotional and physical safety is key to promoting youth development and is an important component of the new Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in California

Afterschool programs are responsible for the climate within their programs providing a safe place, physically and emotionally. This is particularly important for LGBT youth who are often more vulnerable to bullying and mistreatment at school. 

A recent blog post authored by Matthew Lynch in Education Week called for schools to  improve the climate for LGBT youth. What can afterschool programs do to improve the whole school climate? Below, we share a few strategies that he proposed in his blog. What else are schools and afterschool programs doing to explicitly address this issue? 

Photo Credit:

"1. Disallow discrimination based on sexual orientation. The National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development have all passed resolutions asking their members and all school districts to step forward to improve the educational experiences of LGBT students. These resolutions call for providing a safe environment, support groups, and counseling options for LGBT students and by employing anti-harassment rules and practices.  In nine states, the state government has instituted legislation prohibiting the harassment and discrimination of LGBT students. We need to continue this trend until every state has these rules in place, in every district and school - no exceptions.

2. Expand "inclusion" policies. There are some schools in which LGBT students are accepted and accommodated.   Same-sex couples are invited to school dances and there are unisex washrooms for transgender students.  School districts in some states include LGBT students in non-discrimination policies with the goal of making schools safe places for all students, parents, faculty and staff.  However, there are also states where it is illegal to even utter the word homosexual and in which the word homosexual (or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) can only be portrayed in a negative light within the classroom.  This makes it difficult for teachers to teach about sexual orientation diversity or to make their classrooms and school environment safe and accepting of LGBT students.  Regardless of location, teachers can explain to students that they don't have to agree it is okay to be gay or lesbian, but they do have to agree that it is not okay to discriminate against them.

3. Promote LGBT student groups. It is important that all students, regardless of who they are or their sexual orientation, have a safe environment in which to learn and grow as an individual.  Gay and lesbian organizations have been at the forefront of trying to create safe and accepting environments for LGBT students.  Students have also taken up the cause and student groups have begun springing up in schools all over the country.  There are currently approximately 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliance Groups registered with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).  These groups are alliances between straight and LGBT. They work together to support each other and promote education as a means for ending homophobia."

Photo Credit:

There are a number of good resources that go into more depth. We have included a few below:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Senate Bill 923: Apprenticeships for Youth

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha

For years, we have been promoting the idea of afterschool programs offering apprenticeships - real-life experience in a work-based setting. Thus, we were pleased to hear that one of the bills sitting on the governor's desk for signing is Senate Bill 923 authored by Senator Fran Pavley, which would create a grant program called the Educational Apprenticeship Innovation Prize or EdPrize

Photo Credit: 

This bill would significantly increase the opportunities for youth to have paid work in their chosen field "while simultaneously going to school to learn the craft – are common in the construction trades, yet few other industries have embraced the model."1 

Photo Credit:

Letters of support for SB 923 can be mailed to Governor Jerry Brown's office here

1 Maitre, Michelle; "Bill to expand apprenticeships awaits governor"; EdSource Article; []; September 2, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Opportunity Equation

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Eric Schwarz is Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools and a long-time colleague. Eric pioneered the incorporation of apprenticeships in afterschool programs and demonstrated what can be done when an afterschool program partners with the law community, business leaders, and museums. Eric is about to release his new book entitled The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's Schools. The book can be purchased here.  

Eric Schwarz
Eric is currently on a tour to introduce his book based on decades of work using his apprenticeship model. We will interview Eric in an upcoming blog post. 

Meanwhile, you have a chance to meet him in person and discuss his book on Friday, September 12, 2014 at Nextdoor in San Francisco. Click here for more information and to RSVP. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dropout Prevention? Try Leadership Development

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Jason Towne is an educational writer who toured the country to research his book, Conversations with America's Best Teachers. Below, we asked Mr. Towne about his high school dropout prevention approach which features leadership development as the primary strategy. 

Q: In considering a new approach to dropout prevention, you paired at-risk youth with leadership development. What did you use to identify youth as “high risk” for dropping out? 
Jason Towne
A: I was brought in as a consultant by the principal of an urban high school to help figure out a way to reach his "at-risk" students. In this situation the at-risk students were labeled that way based entirely on absenteeism. Any students that had over a certain amount of absences, for whatever reason, were included. Of course this means that most of their grades were also quite low, but neither grades nor test scores were the basis for the "at-risk" label.

Q: Most people do not equate at-risk youth with leadership potential. What made you put these two together? 
A: Everyone has leadership potential, but some of us have just had more opportunities to practice it than others. In fact, the worst-behaved students are often some of the best natural leaders I've ever met, they just haven't been shown how to redirect that ability in positive ways. Even the most quiet students can, and often want to, become leaders, but they need someone to show them how and literally put them in a situation to practice it. You'd be surprised at what these kids can do.

Q: How do you define leadership? And how did you explain the term ‘leaders’ to the group of at-risk youth who you brought together? 
A: Dr. Warren Bennis put it best when he said, "leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." It sounds so simple when put like that, but the complexities behind those four words, "capacity", "translate", "vision", and "reality" really reflect what leadership is all about. When I talk to anyone about leadership, first I convince them that they can become leaders. The idea that leaders are born, not made, is nonsense. Anyone can become a leader if three things happen: 1) They need to be intrinsically motivated to do something, even if extrinsic rewards are available, 2) They need to be taught the basics of leadership, including the tools of influence and persuasion, and 3) They need to be given the opportunity to Practice, Fail, Learn, and Adjust. Then they start that process over again and again. It's no different than mastering any other skill.

Q: In your commentary in Education Week, you described a radical turnaround in the young people’s attitude. What did you see and how do you account for the change? 
A: I will answer the last part of your previous question and this question together. When I explain what leadership is to middle and high school students, I am a bit controversial. When I speak to at-risk, inner-city youth (which I was one), I don't talk to them about going to college or joining the workforce like I'm supposed to, I talk to them about the one thing they care most about-- getting out of poverty. This means I talk to them about making money and becoming successful through entrepreneurship and leadership. Of course the skills they need for that will also prepare them for college and the workforce, but focusing on those is not the way to hook most of them. If you want to motivate them, you have to understand the psychology of poverty. If you're in it you only want one thing-- to get out of it. So that's how I initially frame the leadership conversation and it gets them very intrigued.

Q: Would you recommend this approach to other schools? If yes, what would they need to do in order to prepare themselves to be successful? 
A: I do recommend this approach to other schools, but in order for it to work they must be willing to think differently about these kids. First, administrators and teachers must honestly believe these kids can succeed, in spite of all educational and socioeconomic obstacles, in spite of past performance, and in spite of apparent disinterest. This is not easy to do. It's much easier to simply proclaim that some kids "just don't get it" and can't be reached. Of course that's nonsense. It's not the kids that don't get it, it's the educators that are failing to reach them that don't get it. 

Second, the facilitators of a program like this must be willing to change the way they attempt to reach these students. You must be able to reach them before you can teach them and the only way to do that is to get them properly motivated. 

Finally, it's imperative that administrators keep the program going after the initial meeting. These students are used to being rejected and are easily discouraged. If you invite them to be a part of something special, like a leadership team, and then end it abruptly, the entire thing will backfire. The students will feel even more neglected and discouraged than before. So once you start it you must be willing and able to keep it going.
Photo Credit:

Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles promote the ideas that learning activities need to be active, collaborative, meaningful, support mastery, and expand the horizons of participants. Can you comment from your many interviews with great teachers? 
A: In my book I was amazed to find out just how many things great educators have in common, and the principles you mention are what many base their techniques on. I constantly heard terms like "hands-on learning", "collaborative learning", and "student-based input." What none of them did was, unfortunately what many teachers still do today-- focus almost exclusively on lecturing and textbook learning. It once again all comes down to student motivation. What LIAS is doing is motivating students by making the learning fun, engaging, and relevant-- the exact recipe of success used by the most effective educators in the world.

Q: Do any of these learning principles factor into the success of your dropout prevention approach?
A: All of them do. There are a lot of reasons kids drop out of school, but not wanting to be there at all is chief among them. What if you took the 100 students most at-risk for dropping out and gave them a potion that suddenly made them absolutely love school? What if that potion showed them how they could get out of poverty and become successful? What if that potion convinced them that they could change the world and then showed them how to start? Well that potion exists and it's a mixture of all of the principles you're talking about. Is it magic? No, but get them to drink it and the results will be magical.

Jason W. Towne is an education writer, speaker, consultant, and author of the critically acclaimed book, Conversations with America's Best Teachers. A former high school dropout himself, Towne's focus is on student motivation through programs and opportunities in the areas of youth leadership and youth entrepreneurship. Towne holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California and is currently pursuing his M.Ed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Follow on Twitter @jwtowne .

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Framework for Promoting Learning in Afterschool Programs (Part 2)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Several years ago, Bill Penuel (formerly at SRI International) and I developed a Framework for Promoting Learning in Afterschool Programs. This framework, like the LIAS project, focused on learning so as to capture both the interest of afterschool leaders and education leaders. This framework focused on learning that contributes to school success. When I dug it up recently to review, I was pleasantly surprised how well it held up, given all the new research on learning and the brain, character skills, grit, tenacity, and social emotional skills that influence learning. The citations are not so recent but the ideas and concepts are still relevant. You can view a series of Power Point slides that align the framework here
Bill Penuel,
 University of Colorado
at Boulder

Because we know that the practices of the organizations that oversee the programming influence the quality of the program, we list the organizational practices that must be in play to promote learning in afterschool.  

Organizational Practices
Access to high quality resources for organizing curriculum
  • Programs need access to high quality educational materials that are engaging to youth and that youth perceive as authentic, rather than as “school-like.” 
  • Programs can increase this access by actively seeking such curricula through professional networks, the Internet, and by co-creating curricula with youth and staff.
Staff preparation and ongoing professional development targeted to academic assistance
  • Staff may need special preparation to lead homework assistance centers, tutor youth, or orchestrate enrichment activities.  They need to be prepared to answer students’ questions and to help students develop strategies to regulate their own learning.
  • Organizations can build staff capacity by hiring staff with teaching credentials or experience and by equipping existing staff with knowledge and skills from research about effective instructional practices.

Policies and strategies that promote consistency and persistence in participation
  • Policies to promote consistency and persistence in youth participation are necessary, because regular attendance is a pre-condition for effectiveness.
  • Organizations can establish norms for participation among youth, procedures for follow-up when youth are absent, and strive to provide a variety of programming options to youth to motivate attendance.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Framework for Promoting Learning in Afterschool Programs (Part 1)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Several years ago, Bill Penuel (formerly at SRI International) and I developed a Framework for Promoting Learning in Afterschool Programs. This framework, like the LIAS project, focused on learning so as to capture both the interest of afterschool leaders and education leaders. This framework focused on learning that contributes to school success. When I dug it up recently to review, I was pleasantly surprised how well it held up, given all the new research on learning and the brain, character skills, grit, tenacity, and social emotional skills that influence learning. The citations are not so recent but the ideas and concepts are still relevant. You can view a series of Power Point slides that align the framework here

The framework looked at learning that affected outcomes measured by schools (grades, test scores, attendance, and behavior), the inputs that afterschool learning can contribute are listed below as Afterschool Learning Outcomes and Afterschool Practices to Promote Afterschool Learning. I believe these are still relevant to afterschool quality practice. 

Afterschool Learning Outcomes

Mastery Motivation and Persistence in Intellectual Tasks
Bill Penuel,
University of Colorado
at Boulder

Importance and Links to External Indicators: Students who adopt mastery goals for learning approach learning tasks as potentially challenging and as requiring effort to complete. Students who are more concerned with performance-avoidance, that is, preventing others from seeing them fail, tend to give up more easily on difficult tasks, especially if they are low-achieving (Ames & Archer, 1988). Students with mastery goals tend to persist more in the face of difficulty on challenging intellectual tasks (Ames & Archer, 1988).

Role of Afterschool Programs: Afterschool programs have been successful in promoting mastery goals and in providing youth with opportunities to persist on authentic, challenging tasks (McLaughlin, Irby, & Langman, 1994). 


Importance and Links to External Indicators: Self-regulation is the process by which students plan for, organize, and monitor their own learning.  Higher levels of self-regulation are associated with higher achievement levels in school (Butler & Winne, 1995).

Role of Afterschool Programs: Afterschool programs can improve student self-regulation, particularly students’ skills in planning and organizing activities and in reflecting on significant experiences associated with participation (Nichols & Steffy, 1999; Youniss & Yates, 1997).  

Collaborative Skills
Importance and Links to External Indicators: Collaborative skills are increasingly important for both schools and the workplace. Cooperative and collaborative learning experiences are positively associated with student achievement (Slavin, 1990; Johnson, Johnson, & Stanne, 2000).

Role of Afterschool Programs: Afterschool programs can improve students’ social skills and can also reduce anti-social behaviors (Catalano et al., 1999; Mahoney et al., 2003; Weisman et al., in press). 

Bonding and Commitment to School
Importance and Links to External Indicators: Bonding to school has been cited as an important protective factor in supporting youth development (Cheney et al., 1997). Students vary in their level of identification with school and with doing well in school, a factor that has been used to explain the failure of some groups to do well in school (Ogbu, 1987). 

Role of Afterschool Programs: Afterschool programs can help students feel more connected to school (Catalano et al., 1999; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 1999).

Afterschool Practices to Promote Afterschool Learning

Positive culture of learning
  • Encouraging inquiry as an attitude and approach to difficult situations
  • Providing a program environment where mastery goals are rewarded
  • Discouraging comparisons among participants with respect to school performance  
Meaningful learning activities
  • Relying on authentic intellectual activities to engage youth
  • Organizing activities that connect to youth’s interests and life experiences
  • Opportunities for collaboration in contexts where a diversity of expertise is needed for success  
Effective adult assistance
  • Attunement to youths’ needs and interests
  • Solving problems with youth rather than for them
  • Providing feedback focused on how to improve
Support for self-regulation
  • Help with planning for studying, organizing for intellectual tasks, and monitoring progress toward goals
  • Providing youth with experiences of regulating their own learning process in a safe environment
  • Opportunities to reflect on and revise ideas
Positive connections to school
  • Tasks align with and complement schools’ focus on students’ individual academic needs
  • Adult staff articulate the importance and value of school learning
  • Adult staff help youth build bridges among the cultural worlds of school, home, and community
Support for parent engagement in youth’s learning
  • Staff communicate regularly with parents about students’ learning progress and needs
  • Staff encourage parents to talk to teachers about their child’s learning
  • Staff serve as advocates for parents in the school

Youth Vote 2024: Benefits of Youth Civic Engagement

Source: By Sam Piha The 2024 election offers a number of opportunities to engage older youth. But these opportunities require i...